The digital revolution has made it easier than ever for you to fulfil your dreams of getting a job as a writer. While the ability to potentially work from home, set your own schedule, and become a master of your craft can be extremely tempting for anyone – it’s the getting started that’s difficult.
So, how does one secure their first job, and what are some key considerations along your path to professionalism and getting a job as a writer?
Where do I start?
First of all – if your background hasn’t explicitly included journalistic training it’s important to ask: can you write? Copywriting for a living is more a craft than an art and can be very demanding as you build the mental muscle necessary to proceed.
Sites like Copify allow you to get a better view of the industry and let you know exactly where there are future openings and see what sectors interest you the most. Registration with the site also involves a test that asks you to produce a short article on a reasonable timeframe – letting you determine if you are happy with completing content with a tight turnaround.
If you need further guidance, you can turn to a number of professional blogs that can provide great pointers for those starting out or looking to sharpen their skills.
Elna Cain’s regularly updated blog contains a number of useful titbits, as do Jamie Thompson’s contributions to ‘Brand New Copy’ and Susan Greene’s advice delivered through her own site. Regularly reviewing blogs like these can provide you with invaluable knowledge that can further your own career and should become a key part of any writer’s daily routine.
So once you’ve secured the initial guidance you need, it’s important to ask the following questions:
What businesses do I want to target and what do they explicitly need?
In order to start making informed decisions about your new trade, you need to be able to understand who you are pitching to and exactly what it is they are looking for. Copywriters will often transition directly to an area where they have prior experience – such as technical copywriters moving from software development and finance journalists moving to fintech copywriting etc. And once you’ve decided on the field you want to target, it’s time to move on to constructing your portfolio.
What’s in my portfolio?
Your portfolio is essentially your writer’s resume. It should be tailored to each pitch and contain a selection of articles that you have paid for or have been published online. Ideally, these should be customised for each job you are pitching to. But your general professional portfolio should contain the following: commissioned/paid work, a long-form piece, an SEO optimised article, a short press release, up-to-date articles relevant to key sectors that you are targeting, and social media content.
How do I make contacts?
One of the hardest challenges for new writers is securing leads. While offering to work for free may be tempting, it is best avoided unless there are exceptional reasons for doing so, and – sadly – ‘exposure’ is almost never one of them.
When it comes to chasing work, standard recruitment sites such as Reed, Monster and Indeed can be useful but will often require a professional copywriter portfolio tailored to each interview. Regardless of how you choose to proceed, it is critical that you spend time cultivating your online presence through sites like LinkedIn or Journalism.co.uk depending on your background. Alternatively, writers such as Kim Garst provide useful tips on their sites on how best to network and make the crucial connections that you need.
Where are some good places to start?
Searching for your first job can be daunting, but there are many options for you get your foot in the door and start building a career that will last you a lifetime.
Freelance sites: As previously mentioned, sites such as Copify allow you to build your resume and hone your skills for delivery. These take the stress out of invoicing for freelance work, allow you to get an understanding of the type of articles that are regularly sought, and can become a reliable source of revenue as you develop your reputation.
Pitching to papers: Local papers are always searching for online and print content. While this may be a difficult nut to crack, persistence can often pay off in regular shift work – the backbone of any writing career.
Pitching to businesses: Once your online profile is set up, it is worth starting to get in touch with businesses. Any contact should be prefaced with you understanding the organisation inside-out and having a concise pitch that details some ideas and your distinct value to them.
What are some do’s and don’ts?
DO demonstrate that you deliver: One universal truth across all copywriting jobs is that clients will seek evidence that you met a brief, delivered content on time, and then fully met the needs of the client and delivered on all required feedback. If your portfolio demonstrates that, you’re off to a solid start.
DO think about your online persona: Authenticity is important in social media and all too often, ‘embroidery’ on your profile is easily detectable. Try to use your online content to show your professional ability, but also honestly portray your interests and ability to convey messages in different voices and formats.
DO get involved: Networking is hugely important no matter what type of copywriting job you may have. Endeavour to join professional groups and physical meetups, and engage with conversation with peers online – this can help build soft skills in an often-solitary job and help create leads for future work.
DON’T forget to learn from criticism: While criticism may be hard to take, it will always come with a degree of objectivity that you – as the producer of a piece – do not possess. And even if a note is not accurate or appropriate, a willingness to listen shows that you are a reliable employee and can illustrate where clients may have issues, helping you to counteract these problems in future.
DON’T rest on your laurels: All sectors and industries are rapidly changing, and this can be a blessing as well as a curse. Aim to keep up with current trends to improve your pitching and sites like Udemy or Lynda can allow you to build your skills in your spare time at your own pace.
DON’T be unreasonable: Any freelance or semi-creative career will take time to gather momentum and building a presence and profile takes time. Keep knocking on doors and researching the sector and your break will come.
For more advice on how to become a copywriter, take a look at our guide.